I BECOME A SNAKE-CHARMING DERVISH M 3
, at war with the world: which, like an Ishmaelite, fully understood that it lived in a class apart, the hated enemy of all the rest of the animal kingdom, and of nearly all the human race too.
The serpent brought its small face closer and closer to mine, and I surmised that my second test was at hand. I am not enamoured of life, and I doubt not that death opens another door; but I would prefer to let my vital force ebb away in a good cause. Moussa took the cobra from me and set it down on the ground. I had no wish to handle the snake any longer, to continue to hold this writhing sleek creature; but I was curiously fascinated by it, glad to have had the opportunity of studying it at such dose range. It coiled in front of me now, about eighteen inches away, its head and the forepart of its body gracefully raised about the same distance into the air, and continued to watch me closely.
As I returned its gaze, I speculated on the death-dealing potencies of its tiny mouth. All the danger of a serpent lay concentrated in that menacing aperture, just as all its mystery seemed to be concentrated in those fixed lidless eyes.
The bite of an Egyptian cobra injects a poison into the body that quickly paralyses the nerves, either atrophying or destroying the nervous system. This is inevitably followed by heart failure or inability to breathe.
What arrangement had Nature made to provide snakes with such powers of life and death, I silently questioned myself. Finally I asked Moussa to let me examine the interior of the cobra's mouth. He instantly agreed and, gripping it by the neck, forced a stick into the narrow slit of a mouth and revealed its unfamiliar anatomical structure to me.
The opened mouth was a vivid red colour, which made a striking contrast against the green and dull yellow of the skin. . I could not help being impressed by the highly efficient biting-mechanism which was thus displayed. The curved teeth which served as fangs were set in the very front of the jaw, one at each corner, and lay tucked up against the upper jaw. I discovered by the action of the mouth in attempting to avoid the stick, which irritatingly prodded the palate, that this pair of poison teeth was not immovably embedded in the jaw; they were worked by a certain muscle so that they could be swung forward to stand semi-erect and then slipped back into place. I could not recollect any other species with movable teeth.